Tag Archives: college football

My (Early) Thoughts On Pandemic-Era Live Sports

This past weekend felt like a turning point for the world of sports. For sports lovers like me, it was a weekend we thought might never come. This past year and the global pandemic that has consumed it has ruined so many things, canceling so much of what we love. It got to a point where some of us seriously wondered if sports would go the way of concerns, indoor restaurants, and strip clubs.

As a lifelong lover sports who builds spring and summer afternoons around watching baseball games, this was a terrifying thought. I was already bracing myself for the worst, thinking that 2020 might become a year without sports. For once, the worst didn’t entirely come to pass. Baseball, hockey, and basketball all made a comeback and sports fans everywhere could breathe a bittersweet sigh of relief.

Having spent the past few days watching a little of everything, from late night ball games to the new NBA playoffs, I certainly share that relief. I am very happy to see sports return. It feels like a real sign that we’re navigating this pandemic. We’re making a genuine effort to get our lives back. That said, the experience of watching sports is very different during a pandemic.

The most jarring thing, at least for me, was watching a Red Sox vs. Yankees game with no fans. Even though the broadcast tried to pump in crowd noise, it just felt so off. This is one of the most heated rivalry in the history of sports. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the playoffs or the regular season. When these two teams play, it has real dramatic stakes.

You can hear it in the crowd.

You can feel it with every home run, lead change, and scoring opportunity.

It’s part of the experience, even if you’re watching from home. Without real fans and real visceral crowd noise, it just felt incomplete.

Don’t get me wrong. I still enjoyed watching the game. After several months with no sports outside of Korean Baseball, it was incredibly cathartic. You could just tell that this is an incomplete product, but for very good reasons. The subsequent outbreaks that followed opening day were proof of that. I have a feeling that won’t be the last outbreak before the season is done.

That season might even get cancelled. That’s a real possibility and one that doesn’t bode well for football season, which is just a month away.

It seems basketball and hockey are faring somewhat better. They still had the benefit of nearly being done with their season by the time the pandemic hit. I managed to watch a few basketball and hockey games. It wasn’t quite as jarring as baseball, but it still felt very incomplete.

If you’ve ever seen how the Las Vegas Golden Knights put together an opening show, you know why. It also changes the stakes, somewhat. When the both the NBA and NHL seasons were put on hold, teams were still fighting for playoff positions. Those positions matter because higher ranking means a chance at home field advantage.

Well, since both leagues are playing in a bubble in limited locations with no fans, there’s no such thing as home field advantage. There’s no crowd energy. There’s no real sense that any team has an advantage, besides the record they earned before all this happened. For some, that’s disappointing. At the same time, this might be the most level playing field these teams have ever had.

In those circumstances, how do we treat the team that ultimately wins it all? How can you judge any team that wins a championship when an entire season got disrupted by a global pandemic? Does that championship deserve an asterisk? Will people and players alike see it as legitimate? Will the fans even be able to celebrate it? It’s not like parades are conducive to social distancing.

These are sentiments I still find myself contemplating as I celebrate a return of sports. I’m sure those sentiments will change as the rest of the year unfolds. If baseball gets cancelled or football season gets delayed, that’ll be another sign of just how bad this pandemic is and how terrible we’ve been at dealing with it.

Again, I’m still bracing for the worst. For me, the worst-case scenario is the NFL season getting canceled or cut short, due to an outbreak. I suspect, with billions of dollars on the line, everyone involves will try to avoid that. However, if this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the unthinkable is more possible than we care to admit.

I don’t know how it’s going to play out. I’m just glad sports are back, in some capacity. I just worry about what the end results will be when all is said and done.

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Why I Won’t Be Too Disappointed If College Football Is Cancelled This Fall

I love sports. I think I’ve made that abundantly clear already.

I really love football. I hope I’ve made that clear too.

Like many fellow sports fans, this year has been agonizing. So many major sporting events have been cancelled over the past several months. A few are trying to start back up, but their efforts have been mixed at best. As much as I want to see live sports again, I’m not too optimistic. I assume it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

The worst case scenario, at least for me, is how much this pandemic will affect the upcoming football season. For me, and America as a whole, football is king. It’s the top sport of the country and one I build my entire weekends around. I’m already expecting to have to change those weekend plans for the upcoming season.

I really hope the NFL finds a way to play a full season. I imagine it’ll be traumatic for many football fans like myself to see the season cancelled or diminished in any way. However, as dire as this news might be for football fans, there is one potential silver lining that I hope comes to pass.

If college football is cancelled this year, I think it’ll be better for the sport and college athletes in the long run.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love college football. I went to many raucous football games while I was in college. They’re something people build their entire Saturdays around and it generates big business for networks and universities alike. That’s all well and good, but there’s just one problem. This all comes at the cost of exploiting the labor of college athletes.

It’s not a new issue. The debate on paying college athletes or somehow compensating them with something other than a scholarship has been ongoing for years. Having gone to college and known college athletes personally, I understand that it’s not a simple issue. At the same time, it’s hard to argue that the current system is horribly flawed.

The only reason that system hasn’t changed much, despite plenty of concerted efforts, is because the money kept pouring in. Peoples’ appetite for football is insatiable and the NCAA was not inclined to change what had been working so well for them.

Then, the pandemic happened.

Suddenly, that steady stream of money, fueled by the sweat of unpaid college athletes, might not be there anymore. Some conferences have already canceled their fall sports programs. More are likely to follow. If the rate of infections and death keeps rising, there’s a real possibility that all of college sports will be canceled this fall, including football.

As a football fan, this is terrifying.

As someone who has no sympathy whatsoever for the NCAA or the current system of college athletics, I’m oddly hopeful.

It takes a lot to change a corrupt system that’s making a select few very rich. A global pandemic definitely qualifies. While I understand some of the arguments behind not paying college athletes, I don’t think that’s enough to justify the current way of doing things. These kids deserve to get paid.

I’ve seen what they go through. I’ve known players who strain their minds, bodies, and souls under this system and get so little out of it. I’ve also known players who grossly exploit the system for their own benefit. It needs to change. It should’ve changed years ago, but it only became more entrenched.

If losing an entire college football season will finally bring that change, I’ll gladly take it. If it leads to a better system for the players, the schools, and the sport in general, I’ll endure. This pandemic will end. Sports will eventually return. As bad as this current situation is, it’s also an opportunity real, meaningful change. I hope the sports world embraces it.

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A (Longview) Question For Those Who Fought To Change The Name Of The Washington Redskins

It’s really happening.

I doubt anyone expected it to happen in their lifetimes, but after years of protesting and pushing, it’s finally happening. The Washington Redskins are changing their name. As someone who has followed NFL football his entire life and knows way too much about the history of every team, I am genuinely shocked. I really didn’t think this was going to happen, especially with how stubborn the owner of the team has been.

Shocked or not, it’s happening. The Washington Post announced it and the team made it official. They are changing their name.

Washington Post: Redskins To Retire Team Name

In an interview July 4, Coach Ron Rivera – who is working with owner Daniel Snyder to choose a name – said he hoped the new name would be in place by the start of the 2020 NFL season. Others have said it will be revealed as soon as within two weeks.

Two people with knowledge of the team’s plans said Sunday that the preferred replacement name is tied up in a trademark fight, which is why the team can’t announce the new name Monday.

Many are already celebrating this victory. In the battle against offensive sports mascots, this was the equivalent of Goliath. It’s one thing to get a publicly funded college to change their name. It’s quite another to get a private multibillion dollar sports franchise with an 80-plus years history. It’s a huge feat. Let’s not deny that.

Granted, it’s a feat that only happened once money became a factor. This was not done for moral reasons or because someone made an impassioned plea. This was a business decision done for the sake of doing future business. If there’s any lesson to be drawn from this endeavor, it’s that. Moral arguments do nothing. Money does all the talking.

It’s because of that, I suspect this is one of those issues that will still divide people. No matter what the new name is, people are still going to see them as “that team that used to be called the Redskins” or “that team that used to have a racist moniker.” Even though the team eventually did what some saw as the right thing, they’ll still be scorned because they didn’t do it soon enough.

That’s just the world we live in. The people who protested the name aren’t going to say “thank you.” They’re more likely to say, “It’s about damn time you racist piece of shit. Now, suffer for the rest of your life while we shame you, your children, and everyone you ever associate with and take it with a goddamn smile.”

That might be hyperbole, but that’s the power of outrage. It’s kind of addictive. The idea of turning anger into kindness, friendship, and harmony just feels like a bridge too far. People do get bored with outrage eventually, but only because they find something else to direct it towards.

That being said, I have a question to all those who are celebrating this feat. I want to ask that same question to everyone who passionately protested this name for years, protesting its racist connotations and use of caricatures. It’s a sincere, simple question that I hope people seriously contemplate.

What real, tangible benefit will changing the name of a football team accomplish for Native Americans communities in the long run?

The key word in that question is tangible. I’m aware of the various studies regarding the psychological impact of Native American mascots and caricatures. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on this. However, psychological impacts don’t always translate into tangible impacts. You can feel and think all you want. If you don’t do anything with it, then the impact never goes beyond brain chemicals.

As I write this, nearly a quarter of Native Americans live in poverty and the unemployment rate on many reservations is around 40 percent. That’s a trend that has not improved substantially in recent years, regardless of how many or how few mascots a sports team uses. The Native American community has a host of other critical issues to deal with that include, but are not limited to:

  • Violence against Women and Children
  • Native Americans are Less Educated
  • Poor Quality Housing
  • Inadequate Health Care
  • Unable to Exercise Voting Rights
  • Native Language is Becoming Extinct
  • Limited Financial Institutions in the Native Communities
  • Natural Resources Exploitation

These are complex issues. I’m certainly not equipped to discuss them in detail. Some are more urgent than others, but plenty involve real, tangible impacts on a community. A lack of adequate health care, decent housing, and good education all incur tangible impacts. That’s beyond dispute. How will changing the name of a football team affect any of these issues?

I’m not being facetious. I genuinely want to know how much or how little that changing the name of an NFL football team will impact Native American communities in a tangible way. I don’t doubt that some will feel better about not having a football team with a racially insensitive name, but is that the only extent of the impact? Does that impact justify all the time, energy, and resources that went into this effort?

Please don’t answer that question now. Preferably, I’d like someone who is in touch with the Native American community to answer at least four years from now. By then, there will have been enough time for the impact of this event to play out. Whether it’s a decrease in poverty or an improvement in life expectancy, it should be clear by then. If it isn’t, then that poses another question.

Was all that effort to change the name of a football team a quality use of time and resources?

Again, that’s not a facetious question. I ask this as someone who really wants to know just how much a football team’s name actually impacts a large number of people within a minority community. I don’t expect to get clear answers now, but I hope they become clearer in the next few years. I also expect those answers to raise even more distressing questions.

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How The NFL Might Have Just Guaranteed A Work Stoppage In The Future

I’m no expert on labor laws, union contracts, or the general business operations of professional sports. I’d never claim otherwise. I’m just a typical guy who loves watching sports. I have about as much expertise to judge a labor dispute as I do in performing brain surgery.

While I lack the expertise, I’ve been on this planet long enough to know when there’s potential conflict down the line. It’s not always obvious, but the signs are usually the same. People see an opportunity to resolve a conflict in the short term, but lay the foundation for greater conflicts in the long run. Like treating a symptom rather than a disease, it simply delays a bigger problem rather than resolving it.

That’s my initial take on the recent approval of the NFL’s new 10-year collective bargaining agreement. At a time when the news about sports has been historically bleak, many see this as a rare bit of good news from the sports world. To some extent, it is. By approving this deal, the NFL avoids a potential work stoppage that could’ve occurred after the 2020 season.

As a die-hard football fan, which I’ve affirmed more than once on this site, I’m glad to hear that this issue wasn’t drawn out. The last time this occurred, there was a full-blown lockout that almost bled into the season. I understand why labor deals are such a big deal in professional sports. Football, especially, requires unique protections for players who want to make money playing an objectively dangerous game.

However, the news on this deal has some details and circumstances that give me pause. It’s not just that certain players are already criticizing it. That’s bound to happen with any deal. The fact that this deal was approved amidst a massive crisis that has rocked the sports world to its core and by such a narrow margin is somewhat telling.

In general, when something is approved by a narrow margin, it’s a sign that neither side is all that happy. It implies there are still many unresolved issues and the presence of a deal doesn’t make those issues go away. Just look at how often narrowly decided Supreme Court decisions tend to cause more issues down the road.

The issues between the players and owners are many, but most boil down to who gets how much of the massive revenue that the NFL generates every year. This new deal gives the players a larger share of the revenue, but also sets the stage for an 17-game season, as well as an expanded playoffs.

As a football fan, I love the prospect of more football, but I also don’t deny that issues that tend to arise whenever you ask workers to work longer. These players already put their bodies through more rigor than most fans can ever fathom and now they’re being asked to push themselves even more. Even if it’s for more money, is the amount they got enough?

It’s hard to say since I’m not an NFL player, but the fact that the players approved the deal by such a narrow margin leads me to believe it’s not. Some may not oppose it, but I think the stage is already set for a much bigger conflict down the line. Once players start playing this 17-game season and see the amount of revenue it generates, they’re going to want more for the grind they endure.

Given the circumstances surrounding this deal, I suspect the only way they’ll get what they want is by going on strike, like they did back in the early 1980s. It might be their only recourse if the NFL continues to grow at its current pace. It will get ugly. Fans will hate it and so will the owners. However, it might be the only way they can get what they want.

I hope I’m wrong about this. I look forward to every new NFL season with great excitement. I want to keep enjoying football as a fan and I want the players to benefit as much as they deserve. Hopefully, cooler heads prevail in the end. For now, though, I think it’s only a matter of time before the NFL faces a bigger conflict that they won’t be able to blame on a pandemic.

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My Reaction To Week One Of The (New And Improved) XFL

Two years ago, I expressed intrigue and excitement about the prospect of the XFL returning almost 20 years after its initial failure. Part of that is because I’m a lifelong football fan. My annual excitement over the Super Bowl is proof of that. Another part of that is because the months between February and April, when baseball season starts, is a sports desert.

The NBA and NHL regular season is winding down.

The NCAA basketball tournament hasn’t started yet.

There’s a real void to be filled. Many have tried to fill it with spring football, including the first version of the XFL. To date, all have failed. It has led some to believe that spring football just isn’t possible. I respectfully disagree with that sentiment.

I believe there is a market for more football and I believe this new version of the XFL is doing everything right in pursuing it. They took their time, using the past two years to make sure they had plenty of money in hand and refine the rules. After plenty of waiting and anticipation, week one kicked off this past weekend. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. Given how the first XFL failed, it could’ve been a disaster.

After watching all four games and seeing the quality of the product on the field, I have just one thing to say. As it just so happens, Morty Smith said it better.

I know it’s premature.

I know a lot can change between the first week of the season in the last.

For now, that doesn’t matter. I’m in. The XFL 2.0 has sold me. It’s real football at a time when the sports world needs it. I was rooting for it before. Now, I’m rooting even harder. The world of football and the world of sports, in general, will benefit from the XFL succeeding.

I still miss the old XFL cheerleaders, but I’ll manage.

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Super Bowl LIV Recovery Day (And Celebration)

First off, what a game!

I had to say that, especially after the snoozer we had last year. I’m not a huge fan of either team, but I’m a big fan of great, exciting football and Super Bowl LIV delivered. It was a close, exciting game for all four quarters. It showcased two teams that definitely deserved to be there. They both played hard. They both showed why they’re the best. In the end, the better team won.

To the Kansas City Chiefs, you earned this. They played their best game on the game’s biggest stage. Their coach, Andy Reid, finally exorcised some long-simmering demons about his lack of Super Bowl success. Their quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, showed why he’s one of the NFL’s best rising stars. The entire team played like champions and now they are champions.

To the San Francisco 49ers, you put up a hell of a fight. Like the Chiefs, they proved they deserved to be there. Their punishing rushing attack and the steady hand of quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, made them one of the most dominant teams throughout the regular season and the playoffs. They beat some of the best teams in the league this past season, but in the end, they couldn’t beat the best.

I’ll be using this day to recover from both the excitement of the game and all the junk food I ate while watching it. To fans of the Chiefs, it’s a day to celebrate. Go on. You’ve earned it.

 

The NFL season is officially over now. While a part of me is sad, I still had a great time this season. It was fun to watch from start to finish. Once again, football made every Sunday feel special. I’ll miss it for the next seven months. Until then, I hope the XFL can fill the void.

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Happy Super Bowl LIV Eve!

It’s almost here. The holiest of days for football fans is finally here. I can already taste the cold beer, buffalo wings, and overpriced dip. In less than 24 hours, I’ll actually be tasting it. As a lifelong football fan, a sports fan, and a general fan of anything entertaining on a Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t be more excited.

I’ve been building my Sundays around football for months. Now, I get to do it one more time, at least until the XFL gets started. It’s the biggest game of the year, both in terms of importance and in terms of prime time ratings. There’s a reason why people pay millions for commercial time during the Super Bowl. I’m just one of those reasons.

In the spirit of preparing/celebrating this holiest of sporting events, I’d like to briefly share my Super Bowl plans. I don’t throw a party or stage some elaborate event. I did that in college and it got tedious at some point. Now, ever since I’ve been living on my own, I’ve developed my own Super Bowl ritual. It’s evolved over the years, but I feel like I’ve refined it to perfection.

It goes like this.

The day before the Super Bowl, I buy two big bags of chicken wings, two cases of beer, a giant bag of chips, two jugs of dip, and several bottles of buffalo wing sauce.

On the morning of the Super Bowl, I eat a light breakfast that consists of black coffee, oatmeal, and a couple eggs. I don’t eat anything else for the rest of the day.

Then, approximately four hours before kickoff, I work out and I work out extra hard. That includes a four mile run and weight lifting. I then shower and change into my most comfortable clothes.

An hour before kickoff, I start cooking my wings. I time it just right so that I’m tossing them in the sauce as the national anthem is playing.

During the coin toss, I get a cold beer ready, prepare a plate of wings, and lay out a bag of chips.

At the moment of kickoff, I open the beer, eat my first wing, and start watching the game.

Yes, I know it’s not the most elaborate setup for a Super Bowl viewing experience. For me, it maximizes my enjoyment of the game. While last year’s game wasn’t that exciting, I still had fun and my approach to the game definitely helped. This year, I’m hoping for something better.

Now, I’m not a huge fan of the Kansas City Chiefs or the San Francisco 49ers. However, I’ve become a big fan of Patrick Mahomes for reasons most NFL fans are well aware of. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’m rooting for the Chiefs, but he’s proven his greatness thus far. Nothing would vindicate it more than a Super Bowl championship for a team that hasn’t even played in one since the Nixon Administration.

To the rest of the ardent football fans out there, I hope you share my excitement. I also hope the game caps off the season on the highest of notes. The Super Bowl is a culmination of a journey that few teams get to complete. It’s America’s most popular sport for a reason. When a team wins, it’s a hell of an accomplishment.

I’ll probably have a lot more to say about the game once it’s finished. Until then, my excitement will only build. In the meantime, please enjoy these spectacular highlights from the 2019/2020 NFL season.

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Jack Fisher’s Predictions/Picks For The 2019 NFL Season

NFL Combine Football

It’s that wonderful, exciting, beer-soaked time of year again. A new NFL season is upon us. Football fans, like myself, have followed news, leaks, and rumors from the start of free agency to the NFL draft to the preseason. It’s all been building towards this.

We’ve all been anxiously waiting to see if our team has done enough to become a contender. There have been all sorts of bold predictions, rampant speculation, heavy hype, and even a little doom-saying. Some major stories about certain players have already thrown things into chaos. More chaos is sure to come as the season progresses. That’s part of what makes the NFL one of the best spectacles in all of sports.

Last year, I made my share of predictions. Again, I was dead wrong. I grossly overestimated how the Pittsburgh Steelers would navigate the chaos that is Le’Veon Bell and how much Kirk Cousins would underachieve after signing his historic free agency contract. This year, I’m sure I’ll make predictions that are every bit as off.

That’s another part of what makes the NFL season such entertaining. It really is unpredictable. You never know what team will go from worst to first. You never know what team will collapse. You never know when a bullshit call by the refs will cost a team a trip to the Super Bowl. You really can’t know until the games are played and it all starts tonight with the kickoff of the 2019 NFL season.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am ready for some football! Just as I’ve done the previous two years, I’m going to make my picks and predictions for division winners and Super Bowl contenders this season. Most of them will likely be wrong, but that’s exactly why I’ll be locked in to watch for the next several months. It’s sure to be a wild ride.


AFC East

Once again, the AFC east is the most lopsided division in the NFL. You don’t need to be a psychic to know how this one will play out. For the past two decades, the New England Patriots have dominated this division as though it were a bunch of tune-up games. I don’t see that changing this season.

The fact remains that Tom Brady has six Super Bowl rings. The New England Patriots have won this division almost every year since 2001. The only time they lost it in 2008 was when Brady was out with a knee injury. Unless he’s injured or retires, he and the Patriots will breeze through the Jets, Bills, and Dolphins.

All three of those teams are in a rebuilding phase. The only team that stands a sliver of a chance is the Jets, who have put together a decent team with Sam Darnold as their quarterback. However, neither he nor anyone else in that division is close to dethroning the Patriots. Until Brady and Belichick retire, that will not change.

Winner: New England Patriots


AFC North

Unlike the AFC East, this division has become less and less predictable with each passing season. Not long ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers were the most loaded team in the division. Their presence in the playoffs was almost a given. It was just a matter of them not underachieving at the worst possible time, which tended to happen.

Now, even with Ben Roethlisberger still playing at a high level, the Steelers have been losing ground to the Baltimore Ravens and the emerging Cleveland Browns. Last year, the Ravens really surprised everyone with how Lamar Jackson fared against top defenses. While I suspect opposing defenses will catch up with him, the team around him has what it takes to keep the Ravens competitive.

While I know the Browns have become a hot pick this season, thanks largely to some big time trades, they haven’t proved they’re capable of taking that next step. At the very least, they’ll keep the Steelers and the Ravens from running away with the division. They may even get into the playoffs as a wild card team. For now, though, I think the Ravens have the most balanced team and they’ll repeat this year.

Winner: Baltimore Ravens


AFC South

A few weeks ago, I thought I had a pretty good idea of how this division was going to play out. Then, Andrew Luck retired in the middle of the preseason at age 29. While I can’t necessarily blame him, given all the injuries he endured, his retirement caught the Indianapolis Colts off-guard and the entire AFC South, for that matter.

This division has become a lot more competitive in recent years. Both the Houston Texans and the Jacksonville Jaguars made sure that Luck’s run with the Colts was painful. His absence can only help them. While Colts do have some play-makers outside of Luck, I don’t see them as being enough to compete this year.

Instead, I think this division might end up being the most dramatic, thanks to the arrival of Nick Foles in Jacksonville. While the Texans have big names like J. J. Watt, the Jaguars have a more complete team, overall. Poor quarterback play by Blake Bortles was the only reason they came up short last year and Nick Foles is a huge upgrade over Bortles.

Let’s not forget that Foles has one thing that no other quarterback in the AFC South has, including Andrew Luck, and that’s a Super Bowl ring. This is the guy who beat Tom Brady in a shootout. He brought Philadelphia a championship. I think he’ll get the Jaguars into the playoffs and he may even do some damage.

Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars


AFC West

Last year might have marked the beginning of a new era in the AFC. The season that Patrick Mahomes had last year was nothing short of gaudy. He established the Kansas City Chiefs as an offensive powerhouse and took his team to within a few minutes of the Super Bowl. He even managed to do this during a season when Phillip Rivers had one of his best years with the Los Angeles Chargers.

I see no reason why Mahomes and the Chiefs can’t be contenders again in 2019. However, I’ve been watching football long enough to know that any team can get hot one year and fall flat the next. While I don’t see the Chiefs collapsing, I also can’t see them being as dominant as they were last year.

At the same time, I don’t see any other team in their division elevating their game enough to challenge the Chiefs. The Broncos might give them some issues with Joe Flacco, a former Super Bowl MVP, as their quarterback, but I have a feeling that Mahomes will come back down to Earth this season.

That said, I think the Chiefs have enough firepower and depth to repeat. The Raiders, Broncos, and Chargers will keep it closer this year, but not enough to get past Kansas City.

Winner: Kansas City Chiefs


NFC East

This is one of those divisions that I find frustrating because no team ever seems to sustain their success, once they get it. There hasn’t been a team to repeat as division champs since the early 2000s and I don’t see that changing this year. Between contract disputes with the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles losing their former Super Bowl MVP to free agency, I’m genuinely perplexed by the NFC East this year.

That said, this division did get somewhat simpler over the offseason. Eli Manning, despite his two Super Bowl rings, keeps showing his age. The Washington Redskins lost the quarterback who was supposed to keep the team stable for the next several seasons. As a result, the NFC East is basically a two-horse race, but both horses have some open wounds.

The Eagles and the Cowboys have playoff-caliber teams. The Cowboys have been more stable, but they haven’t done much in the playoffs. They also let the drama with Ezekiel Elliot get way out of hand. I can see both teams going back to the playoffs this year, but I think the Eagles have more going for them.

Winner: Philadelphia Eagles


NFC North

This is another confusing division, but for much better reasons. This division has steadily gotten more competitive over the past several years. It was once dominated by the Green Bay Packers and their all-pro quarterback/State Farm spokesman, Aaron Rogers. For the past couple years, however, the Packers underachieved while the Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings, and Detroit Lions only got better.

This year could be one of the most competitive to date, for this division. You could make an argument for all four teams winning the division. You could even make an argument for them being contenders in the NFC Championship game. They all have quarterbacks that can play at a pro-bowl level and defenses that can make a difference in any given game.

I’m tempted to go with the only quarterback who has won a Super Bowl. However, with a new coach taking over and no play-makers on defense, I can’t pick the Packers to do much this year. I’m also tempted to pick the Vikings again, but until Kirk Cousins stops choking in big games, I’m going to have to go with the growing success of Chicago. They may not compete for a Super Bowl, but they will start to establish themselves this year.

Winner: Chicago Bears


NFC South

Let me make one thing clear before I break down this division. The New Orleans Saints were robbed last year. They should’ve been the team playing the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII. That bullshit no-call in the 2018 NFC Championship Game was one of the worst calls in NFL history.

That said, I think the New Orleans Saints are going to make up for that gaff this year. Drew Brees is a Hall of Fame quarterback. That much is beyond dispute. He’s got a great team around him, but the Saints have suffered two heartbreaking playoff losses in two years. At some point, that starts to wear on a team. Just ask the Buffalo Bills.

I also think the Saints benefited from a weak division in 2018, which was marred by injuries and a version of Cam Newton that was not at full strength. They won’t have those benefits in 2019. They’ll still be the team to beat. They’ll still probably make the playoffs, but I think the Falcons did enough in the offseason to bolster their team.

I know the Falcons may not have gotten over their epic collapse in Super Bowl LI, but they still have an elite quarterback in Matt Ryan and play-makers on offense that are finally healthy. That will be what tips the balance in their favor.

Winner: Atlanta Falcons


NFC West

Let me make another thing clear before I break down this division, as well. The Los Angeles Rams did not deserve to be in Super Bowl LIII, but they are still a team that can contend for a Super Bowl in 2019. They have a defense littered with Pro Bowlers and depth. They have an offense that is more balanced than almost any other team in the NFL. They can get back to the Super Bowl and they can win it.

It helps that their division is relatively weak. Other than the Seattle Seahawks, they really don’t have much in terms of obstacles. The San Francisco 49ers have a quarterback coming off a major knee injury and the Arizona Cardinals have a new coach and a new quarterback who haven’t yet learned how to win in the NFL. Their path to Super Bowl LIV is easier than most.

I admit I was among those who were very skeptical of the Rams. I thought they were just overachieving for a year or so. However, they’ve convinced me that they have what it takes to compete at a high level consistently. Their team, as well as their baby-faced coach, are young and hungry. I think they’ll take the division again. I just don’t think they can keep relying on the refs to hand them the game.

Winner: Los Angeles Rams


Super Bowl LIV Prediction

This year might be one of the least predictable years for the NFL in the past decade. We’re going into a season that has has no overly dominant team. There are a few with weak schedules and weak divisions, but that will only get you into the playoffs. It won’t carry you to a Super Bowl.

Given these uncertainties, I still have a gut feeling as to who will make it to the big game on February 2, 2020 in Miami. My gut feeling is usually wrong when it comes to sports, but right now, it’s telling me that the two teams that will face off on that day will be the Atlanta Falcons and the Kansas City Chiefs.

These are two teams with immense talent at the quarterback position. Both Matt Ryan and Patrick Mahomes are among the NFL’s elite in terms of stats and leadership. They also have defensive talent on each team that can give them an edge once they get into the playoffs.

It’ll be a close game. One is an up-and-coming star. The other is a veteran hungry to avenge a previous Super Bowl loss. It could easily become an offensive shootout. In that battle, I think the Atlanta Falcons will make just enough plays to get the victory and become Super Bowl champs in 2019.

Super Bowl LIV Final Score: Atlanta Falcons 35, Kansas City Chiefs 31


As I’ve noted before, I tend to be very wrong about predictions this early in the season. Pretty much everyone is wrong at this point. That’s what makes this time of year so exciting. With kickoff slated for later tonight, I am ready! The path to Super Bowl LIV begins now.

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Defending The NFL In A No-Win Situations

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Are you excited for the start of the 2018 NFL season? Actually, let me add a caveat to that question. Are you excited for the 2018 NFL season despite all the recent controversy? That’s probably the more relevant question these days, albeit for all the wrong reasons.

Let’s face it. These days, nobody seems to be talking about whether Tom Brady’s age will finally catch up with him or whether the Cleveland Browns will actually win a game after their historically bad season last year. Instead, anytime football or the NFL is mentioned, it’s usually in the context of a major controversy or social outrage.

First, it was the NFL’s weak stance on domestic violence after the Ray Rice situation.

Then, it was the NFL’s policy on the nation anthem in wake of Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protest and the subsequent clash with the President that followed.

Then, it was the NFL’s declining ratings and the various reasons why.

Then, it was the NFL’s handling of multiple scandals involving the treatment of its cheerleaders.

Then, it was the NFL’s implementation of rule changes that many are saying will destroy the game.

In the midst of all of these controversies/scandals, the NFL is also dealing with an emerging health crisis involving player safety. Concerns about concussions and serious injuries, like the one Ryan Shazier suffered, are doing more than just making football look dangerous. It’s creating a cultural divide, of sorts, where people are distancing themselves from the sport and the violence it requires to play.

In this web of convoluted circumstances, the NFL rarely comes off as looking good. In fact, some are going so far as to put the NFL on the same level as the tobacco companies as an organization that willingly sells a dangerous product. At that point, the NFL comes off as less a professional sports league and more an evil corporation.

Now, here’s the part where I’m sure I’ll upset plenty of people, but that’s kind of the underlying point here. That’s because I’m about to defend the NFL. I’m also going to defend NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, to some extent. I know that’s akin to saying nice things about Monsanto these days, but I’m willing to take that chance.

I do this as someone who loves football and is genuinely excited about the upcoming NFL season. At the same time, I’m not blind to all the controversies and outrage the NFL has generated over the past few years. However, I feel it’s necessary to put things into a proper context.

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that the NFL, Roger Goodell, and everyone involved in the infrastructure of football are in the ultimate no-win situation. Take a moment to think about the decisions they’ve had to make over the past few years.

If they chose to discipline Colin Kaepernick for his anthem protest, they would’ve upset a huge contingent of people who supported his message. By doing what they did, they still upset a huge contingent of fans who did not agree with him.

If they chose not to implement the recent rule changes, then they would be criticized for undermining player safety. By doing what they did, they’ve been accused of undermining the game.

When it comes to ratings decline, any side can take credit and cast all the blame on the NFL and Roger Goodell. Those on the conservative side will take credit for lower ratings over the anthem protests. Those on the liberal side will take credit because of concerns about concussions and violence. Never mind the fact that the ratings decline coincided with an overall trend in TV viewing. It’s still all the NFL and Roger Goodell’s fault.

Even when they come out and apologize for a mistake, nobody even accepts it. After the debacle surrounding the Ray Rice incident, Roger Goodell came out and issued an apology. These are his exact words:

“At times, however, and despite our best efforts, we fall short of our goals. We clearly did so in response to a recent incident of domestic violence. We allowed our standards to fall below where they should be and lost an important opportunity to emphasize our strong stance on a critical issue and the effective programs we have in place. My disciplinary decision led the public to question our sincerity, our commitment, and whether we understood the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families. I take responsibility both for the decision and for ensuring that our actions in the future properly reflect our values. I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.”

Break that down and imagine anyone else saying it. How rare is it these days to hear any public figure admit they got something wrong? It still didn’t matter, though. People just didn’t buy it, claiming Goodell was just saying what he needed to say to stop the outrage.

That may have been true to some degree, since he is the face of a very popular, very profitable organization. However, by assuming that he and the NFL are completely insincere, it creates a no-win situation. For any person or company, especially one built on the win/lose nature of sports, that’s an impossible standard.

Honestly, and I’m being sincere about this, what could the NFL possibly do to placate everyone at this point? They’re not a government, an army, or your best friend. They’re a professional sports league. Yes, they’re the most popular and profitable sports league in the United States, but they’re still limited to what they are.

Is it really reasonable to expect the NFL to be on the front lines of serious issues like domestic violence, police brutality, and what constitutes patriotism? Again, they’re a professional sports league. They can only control the rules, regulations, and business of their sport.

In that sense, it’s reasonable to expect them to make the game safer. That’s exactly what the new rule that so many says will destroy football is intended to do. Considering that college football already has that rule, it’s not like these changes to the game are unprecedented.

This isn’t even the first time significant rule changes have been bemoaned in the NFL. There was a time when a simple rule change involving how defensive players could operate was going to ruin the game and destroy the league. That time was in 1978 and football only went onto become more popular after that.

Even if injuries are a reasonable concern, do those caused by football warrant more scrutiny than other sports? Statistically speaking, skiing is much more dangerous in terms of actually killing people. In terms of injury and head trauma, boxing has a much higher risk. Why aren’t there any ongoing efforts to condemn those sports for their violence and physical harm?

Some of that has to do with the NFL being so big. Mark Cuban, who owns the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, once said “Pigs get fat. Hogs get slaughtered.” He’s half right in that the size and influence of an organization can make it an easy target. The NFL is just so visible compared to other leagues. Anything that happens to it is bound to gain attention, both the good and bad kind.

The problem is the bad tends to be a lot louder in the era of social media and outrage culture. That further raises the impossible standards even higher because it means those dissatisfied with the NFL’s decision, no matter how much a minority they are, will still make plenty of noise and generate plenty of headlines.

Is that a fair standard for a professional sports league? Is that a fair standard for anyone? If the NFL can’t meet those standards, then what incentive do they have to even try? Why should they be responsible for player safety or social issues if people are just going to be upset with them regardless of what they do?

At the end of the day, the NFL is a business. They still want to make money entertaining people with their sport. They have plenty of incentive to protect their players. New advances in helmets and pads will make the game safer. Advances in medicine are already mitigating the effects of concussions. It’s not going to happen all at once, but if anyone has the resources and clout to make it happen, it’s the NFL.

Now, none of this is to imply that the NFL or Roger Goodell don’t deserve criticism. They certainly do. Up until 2015, the NFL was a tax-exempt organization. It’s history of overcharging fans and screwing over injured players is well-documented. They have their flaws. All people and organizations do.

That’s all the more reason to hold the NFL to a reasonable standard with reasonable expectations. They’re still going to screw up every now and then, but that’s also why we should make an effort to accept their apologies. That’s also why we shouldn’t panic every time there’s a rule change.

The NFL, like all sports leagues, is evolving. The latest rule changes aren’t going to destroy the game. Football is still going to be popular because it’s an entertaining game. People are going to gravitate towards fun and entertaining things, despite or even because of their concerns.

At the end of the day, football is a sport and the NFL is a professional sports league. They want to entertain us. We want to be entertained. Why complicate that with impossible standards and no-win situations?

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Second Chances, Learning From Past Mistakes, And The Return Of The XFL

America likes to claim that it’s the land of second chances. People, in general, are often willing to grant second chances to those who have made mistakes, failed, or were just the victim of bad luck. Some end up needing more than second chances, but we’re willing to give them to those who prove they have a vision.

We do it in our personal lives as well, giving second chances to those we love. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t. However, the first step, and arguably the most important, is giving that chance to someone, even when you haven’t forgotten the extent of their mistake.

That brings me to the XFL. I’m sorry, but there’s just no way to effectively transition to this topic. I know the title alone sounded like a jumbled compilation of random thoughts from someone who talks about everything from sex robots to superhero movies. I promise I’m going somewhere with this. I also promise it’s both relevant and applicable.

To those who haven’t heard the big news, the XFL is back. A full 17 years after this eccentric, over-the-top league that inspired the likes of “He Hate Me” and glorified brutal hits is making a comeback. Vince McMahon, the colorful personality who turned wrestling into a billion-dollar entertainment juggernaut, is taking another shot at creating a new football league to compete with the towering Goliath that is the NFL.

As a self-professed football fan whose picks for this past season were dead wrong, I’m genuinely intrigued by this news. I won’t let myself get too excited about it just yet, given how badly the XFL failed the first time, but I am willing to give it my attention, as well as a second chance.

The story of the first incarnation of the XFL is an amazing story. The fact that it also involves exceedingly sexy cheerleaders doesn’t hurt it’s appeal either. Just last year, ESPN did a documentary on that story called “30 For 30: This Was The XFL.” If you want a comprehensive take on what happened to this over-the-top league, this I highly recommend you check this out.

By the end, you’ll appreciate why giving McMahon and the XFL a second chance is such a big deal. It may even give you a better appreciation of why second chances are so hard to give at times. In a sense, this second incarnation of the XFL may end up being a case study on the underlying merit of second chances or the lack thereof.

Whether it’s to a professional athlete, an ex-lover, or an employee, second chances are hard because our brains are wired to remember failures more vividly than successes. The whole notion of “once bitten, twice shy” has actual biology and evolutionary forces behind it. Failure in nature can sometimes mean failure to survive.

The last time the XFL failed, it cost both McMahon and NBC $35 million each. The greatly inflates the price of a second chance, to say the least. Why, in that context, should we still give it one?

Well, I can only speak for myself. I’m not a sports expert any more than I’m a brain surgeon. However, in the spirit of second chances and learning from past mistakes, there are a few I think are worth considering with both the XFL and life in general.


A Second Chance Can Prove You’ve Learned From Failure (And Are Able To Learn In General)

This is as valuable a skill in helping the new XFL succeed as it is for anyone who has ever screwed up in life, which covers pretty much everybody. This is probably the most important aspect of second chances. It gives an opportunity for someone to do more than just claim they’ve learned. Now, they can show it.

Say what you will about Vince McMahon and a lot has been said. He’s an entertainer and a businessman. He wants to make money and, if his net worth is any indication, he’s pretty damn good at it. You do not get that rich by never learning from your mistakes.

It’s hard to say for certain what McMahon will do differently at this point. However, if the content of his announcement is any indication, he’s very much aware of why the XFL failed the first time. He’s ready to take those hard, not to mention expensive, lessons and try again.

Given the breadth of McMahon’s success, he’s someone who can make more out of second chances than most. That’s why I’m going to give him this one, even if I find his persona annoying.


Second Chances Reveals Opportunities Otherwise Not Seen

It’s a common theme in business, romance, and everything in between. Both failure and success create opportunities. The failure of “Batman and Robin” paved the way for “Batman Begins.” The success of the iPhone paved the way for the booming smartphone business.

One failed relationship can also strengthen another. The many failures of other football leagues have only served to strengthen the dominance of the NFL. However, sometimes success can have pitfalls. The past few years have not been kind to the NFL, to say the least. Given the sheer size of this entertainment behemoth, it’s an easy target.

In that respect, the XFL’s timing couldn’t be better. It’s coming along at a time when fans are somewhat disillusioned with the NFL, but have little alternatives beyond the hopelessly corrupt NCAA. The XFL could finally give the NFL the kind of competition that is necessary for any product, service, or art to innovate.

Let’s face it. We humans are a competitive species. If someone is doing something better than us, be it football or underwater basket weaving, we want to match and exceed them. It drives us to be better. It helps make us better people.

Football needs that right now. The NFL needs that. The XFL has the perfect opportunity to achieve this. Combined with the lessons of their first failure, they have much more going for them now than they did in 2001.


Greater Risks Bring Greater Rewards (And Greater Lessons)

This is probably the most important aspect of second chances for both the XFL and for life, in general. Everything that’s worth doing, whether it’s creating a new football league or finding the love of your life, requires a certain degree of risk. Some aren’t willing to risk that much, but those who are have a chance to achieve much more.

I say this as someone who avoided taking major risks until much later in life. Looking back on how I carried myself in my youth, I regret not taking more risks. Hindsight has revealed that I missed out on some pretty big rewards, both material and personal. Sometimes, you really have to do what your brain says is insanely risky to get those kinds of rewards.

What Vince McMahon is doing qualifies as exceedingly risky. He’s putting up $100 million of his own money to make the second incarnation of the XFL happen. He’s also taking on an organization in the NFL with obscene levels of influence, both economically and culturally.

At the moment, most people probably think he’s crazy and bound to fail. Those people aren’t willing to take the risk, but none of them have a shot at the big reward that McMahon is seeking. Even if the chances of the XFL succeeding are less than one percent, it’s still greater than zero and that’s all the chance you need with a second chance.


A Second Chance Can Also Help Fix Broken Or Flawed Systems

This is the part of the new XFL that has me the most intrigued, as a football fan. That’s because, as it stands, the system for developing players for the NFL is basically a cartel wrapped in a monopoly. The NCAA is the cartel. The NFL is the monopoly. If you want to make a living playing football, these are the sole gatekeepers.

It’s a system with many flaws, which have been documented on more than one occasion. The problem is there’s no incentives to fix those flaws. Neither the NCAA nor the NFL have any pressure to do so. They wield total power over all things football and can be as unjust as they want.

The XFL can change that. They can shake up a system that does plenty to screw over college players and professionals if they fail to make it in the NFL. They can provide a new path, bring new ideas to the table, and take chances that a cartel and a monopoly don’t even think to take.

It wouldn’t be the first time a monopoly got broken up. In most peoples’ lives, they either avoid situations where someone has all the leverage or work to subvert it. We do that with the people we work with and the people we love. Again, it often requires that we take risks and chances. However, it only has to work once to affect change.


It’s still not clear just what the new XFL will bring to the table or if it will succeed. For now, it has many forces working against it. However, as both a football fan and someone who sees the merit of second chances, I’m willing to give it one.

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